James Akena / Reuters
Caesar Achellam, center, is a close ally of rebel leader Joseph Kony and had masterminded the Lord's Resistance Army's relocation from northern Uganda, analysts say.
RIVER VOVODO, Central African Republic -- Uganda has captured one of the top five members of the Lord's Resistance Army, bringing it a step closer to catching Joseph Kony, the notorious rebel leader accused of war crimes, the military said on Sunday.
The Ugandan army said it caught Caesar Achellam, a major general in Kony's outfit of about 200 fighters, in an ambush along the banks of the River Mbou in Central African Republic (CAR) on Saturday.
Achellam was armed with just an AK-47 rifle and eight rounds of ammunition, a spokesman for the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF), said. He was being held with his wife, a young daughter and a helper.
Ugandan army Lt. Col. Abdul Rugumayo told The Associated Press that Achellam was in a group of about 30 LRA rebels. The others escaped.
Although Achellam is not one of the LRA commanders indicted along with Kony in 2005 by the International Criminal Court, Ugandan officials say he was Kony's top military strategist.
In Gulu, the site of a 2004 massacre and warlord Joseph Kony's hometown, people are still terrorized that he might return. NBC's Rohit Kachroo reports.
The UPDF, which has a force hunting for Kony full-time in the jungles of CAR, backed by U.S. troops, said the capture of Achellam would encourage other fighters to abandon the LRA.
"The arrest of Major General Caesar Achellam is big progress because he is a big fish," said UPDF spokesman Felix Kulaigye. "His capture is definitely going to cause an opinion shift within the LRA."
Achellam, who was paraded before media, walked with a limp, which he attributed to an old wound. He was returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo when he walked into the soldiers' ambush. UPDF said it had been on his trail for a month.
'Very troubling for Kony'
Analysts said Achellam was a close ally of Kony and had masterminded the group's relocation from northern Uganda.
"From whichever angle you look at it, the loss of Achellam should be very troubling for Kony and a big boost for his manhunt," said Angelo Izama, an analyst who has written extensively on the LRA.
Kony, a self-styled mystic leader who at one time wanted to rule Uganda according to the biblical Ten Commandments, fled northern Uganda in 2005, roaming first the lawless expanses of South Sudan, then the isolated northeastern tip of Congo.
In 2005, NBC News correspondent Keith Morrison traveled to Uganda to report on a little-known war being waged by rebel leader Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). "Children of War" documented how the LRA systematically terrorized countless communities and abducted tens of thousands of children to fill its ranks.
In December 2008, Uganda launched Operation Lightning Thunder against the LRA, dispersing the rebels and pushing them north into CAR.
The rebels live in the jungles of CAR surviving on wild yams, stolen cattle and drinking from rivers.
Kony is accused of abducting children to use as fighters and sex slaves and is said to have a fondness for hacking off limbs.
A viral video that takes aim at African warlord Joseph Kony has racked up nearly 64 million views online. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports on the phenomenon.
A 30-minute YouTube video by California-based film-maker Jason Russell calling for the arrest of Kony swept across the Internet in March, attracting tens of millions of views, bringing the LRA's atrocities to the attention of many people previously unaware of the group's existence.
The Ugandan government, the African Union and the United States all stepped up their commitment to the hunt for Kony in the wake of the outrage caused by the video, "Kony 2012".
More world news from msnbc.com and NBC News:
- Now towering over London: 'The Godzilla of public art'
- France's 'Monsieur' Normal takes office ... unmarried
- Too busy to put the kids to bed? Try 24-hour daycare
- 88,000-mile voyage? Plastic card found after 33 years
- Bad neighbors for Team USA? Occupy camp axed
Follow us on Twitter: @msnbc_world